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15 Killer Facts About Predator

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Before you “get to da choppa,” how about you take a look at a few fun tidbits we found about Predator, the Arnold Schwarzenegger action classic that was released in theaters 30 years ago today.

1. THE MOVIE WAS ALMOST TITLED HUNTER.

The name wasn't switched to Predator until after production.

2. THE PITCH FOR THE MOVIE NAME-DROPPED SOME RECOGNIZABLE HITS.

In the film's DVD commentary, director John McTiernan shared that the film was pitched as “Rocky meets Alien," but McTiernan saw it more like King Kong: "Bunch of guys go to an island, and go deeper and deeper in, and shazam the thing they’re chasing turns out to be a lot bigger than they thought, and they have to turn around and run away!”

3. THE FILM WAS SHOT ENTIRELY ON LOCATION IN MEXICO.

The fictional jungles of Val Verde are actually locations in Puerto Vallarta and Palenque, Mexico. However, because the Mexican jungle is deciduous, tons of fake leaves had to be added to the trees in order to make the jungle seem lush and inescapable.

4. SHANE BLACK WAS CAST FOR HIS SCRIPT EXPERTISE, NOT HIS ACTING CHOPS.

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20th Century Fox

Shane Black, who plays Hawkins, had previously written the screenplay for Lethal Weapon; he was covertly cast in the film so that he would be available to make on-the-fly and uncredited script changes while on set. Which makes it even more befitting that Black is writing and directing a new version of Predator, which is set to be released in 2018.

5. THE LOOK OF THE COMMANDOS WAS BASED ON THE SGT. ROCK COMICS.

Hawkins can be seen reading a Sgt. Rock comic in the end credits (see above).

6. PREDATOR IS PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER JESSE VENTURA’S FIRST MOVIE.

Jesse Ventura would later serve as the Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003.

7. “OLD PAINLESS” SHOT BLANKS…

… but was still extremely deadly. The GE M134 Minigun wielded by Ventura’s character didn’t shoot live rounds, but for safety reasons, the cast and crew were required to stand at least 50 feet away when it was fired.

8. THE PREDATOR’S HEAT VISION ISN’T ACTUALLY HEAT VISION.

The filmmakers attempted to use actual heat vision for the Predator, but the specific camera proved impractical for the on-location shoot. Instead, normal footage was made into a negative image in post-production and exaggerated “heat vision” colors were added to create the effect.

9. THE PREDATOR’S GLOWING GREEN BLOOD WAS MADE FROM GLOW STICKS.

The filmmakers originally used an orange substance for the creature’s blood, figuring they would spiff it up with special effects in post-production. But the orange goop looked so bad on camera, they decided they had to make a change. They wound up using the luminescent liquid from the inside of glow sticks, which they bought over the counter.

10. JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME WAS THE ORIGINAL GUY IN THE PREDATOR SUIT.

The “Muscles from Brussels” was reportedly fired from the movie because he complained too much about how uncomfortable the suit was.

11. THE ORIGINAL DESIGN FOR THE PREDATOR WAS SCRAPPED IN THE MIDDLE OF PRODUCTION.

The original suit resembled a lanky, bug-eyed insect, but McTiernan didn't think it was scary enough. He halted production on the entire movie so it could be redesigned. Arnold Schwarzenegger personally tapped effects wizard Stan Winston to revamp the Predator design. Winston had previously designed Schwarzenegger’s famous robot skeleton in The Terminator.

12. THE BREAK IN PRODUCTION WAS A BLESSING IN DISGUISE.

The stop in production to redesign the Predator allowed the filmmakers to edit an hour of the movie together to show to the studio. They liked it so much that they gave the production more money to create bigger action sequences in the last third of the movie once filming picked back up
again.

13. JAMES CAMERON PARTLY INSPIRED THE CREATURE’S NEW DESIGN.

While on a flight during the production of Aliens, Cameron mentioned to Winston (who was sketching ideas for the new Predator) that he’d always wanted to see a monster with mandibles. Winston added the oral appendages to the final drawing of the updated Predator.

14. THE UPDATED PREDATOR SUIT WAS NO PICNIC TO WEAR.

The fully functioning suit weighed upwards of 200 pounds, which was a lot of weight for Kevin Peter Hall, the seven-foot-tall ballet dancer, martial arts expert, and actor they brought on to replace Van Damme.

15. OPTIMUS PRIME AND THE PREDATOR HAVE THE SAME VOICE.

Peter Cullen, who is uncredited in Predator, provided the voice for both.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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